DeSisti attorney requests release from confinement
The attorney representing John Joseph DeSisti has filed a motion in county court requesting the 76-year-old Waverly man be released from confinement.
Arthur T. Donato Jr. of Media, Pa. filed the motion Aug. 12, along with a motion for a determination that involuntary civil commitment to a hospital does not apply to DeSisti. Donato also filed an alternate motion to grant bail for DeSisti, who is charged with two counts of murder and one count of burglary in the Nov. 2006 killings of David and Carol Keeffe of Athens Township.
State police arrested DeSisti in Dec. 2010 in relation to the shooting deaths, which occurred at the Keeffes' residence. DeSisti and Carol Keeffe were cousins. His trial had been scheduled for July 8, but was canceled after senior judge David Grine found him incompetent to stand trial following a June competency hearing.
In the motion, Donato argues that DeSisti cannot be restored to competency and therefore must be released from criminal confinement. DeSisti is currently incarcerated at the state correctional facility at Waymart.
Following the two-day hearing, Grine ordered temporarily suspended DeSisti's prosecution and ordered that he remain in prison until he is found to be competent. However, Donato argues that DeSisti's condition - believed to be advanced dementia of the Alzheimer's type - makes it unlikely his client will be able to be restored to competency.
Testimony at the June hearing from psychologists and psychiatrists indicated that an evaluation of DeSisti, along with demonstrated symptoms such as total incontinence and noncommunication between DeSisti and caregivers, family members and his counsel, indicated damage to the frontal lobe of DeSisti's brain.
Such damage can lead to memory and cognitive impairments, executive function impairments and an inability to weigh decisions or recognize consequences, all of which experts saw in DeSisti, Donato states.
DeSisti also does not meet the standard for involuntary civil commitment, as he does not pose clear and present danger of harm to himself or others, Donato states. There is no evidence to demonstrate that DeSisti meets the state's standard for having exhibited behavior demonstrating the desire to harm others within the past 30 days, nor has he attempted suicide or self-harm, according to Donato.
Furthermore, DeSisti "is currently physically and mentally incapable of performing any conduct charged in this criminal proceeding," Donato states, adding that he is "clearly in need of skilled nursing care and not involuntary confinement in a state psychiatric hospital."
If DeSisti is released from criminal and civil confinement, his charges will remain, and he will be subject to an annual evaluation to determine whether his competency has been restored, according to state law. Because of the seriousness of his charges, DeSisti's trial would remain stayed until DeSisti becomes competent or until the prosecution enters a declaration of nolle prosequi, a decision to voluntary discontinue criminal charges.
Donato's alternative motion for bail requests that bail be set for DeSisti if the court denies the motion to release him. DeSisti does not pose a flight risk, and his "exceptional circumstances" - his dementia, the level of care he requires on a daily basis and testimony from experts in June that he was only expected to live another 12 months - should allow him the option, Donato states.
"Bail is necessary to prevent a great injustice to Mr. DeSisti, which now involves an issue of basic human rights," Donato states.
DeSisti is next scheduled to appear in court Oct. 16 for a miscellaneous hearing before Judge Grine in the county Court of Common Pleas.
Amanda Renko can be reached at (570) 888-9652; or email: email@example.com.